House prices in Hawke's Bay's two cities have headed in opposite directions over the past year, with average sale values jumping 13 per cent in Napier but falling by a similar rate in Hastings.
The Real Estate Institute (REINZ) said there were 189 house sales in Hawke's Bay last month, up from 174 in January 2013, with the number of homes sold in Napier rising 26 per cent to 97.
Volumes were flat in Hastings with 66 sales completed last month compared to 64 in January 2013.
The median price across the region rose by $2500 or 0.9 per cent compared to 12 months ago, with prices rising noticeably outside the two cities, although on small volumes of sales.
The median price of Napier sales last month was $312,000, up 12.3 per cent from $277,770 in January last year.
In Hastings, the median price was $272,750, down 13.4 per cent on a year ago.
However, Property Brokers Hawke's Bay regional manager Paul Whitaker warned against reading too much into the figures because sales in December and January were distorted by the Christmas and New Year holidays, which could delay settlement dates.
"I think February will provide a much more accurate representation of the market and from what I'm seeing so far I would expect there will be more sales in Hastings and Havelock in February than there will be in Napier and Taradale."
REINZ chief executive Helen O'Sullivan said a number of issues, including seasonal factors and the ongoing impact of restrictions on high loan-to-value lending, made it difficult to get a clear picture on the direction of the market in January.
Mr Whitaker said the market was currently experiencing an increased level of optimism from sellers and more activity from buyers.
"Agents are seeing more inquiries.
"It's not fizzing but it's now better than it was and it's better than average."
The January figures showed Hawke's Bay was one of only four regions to record an increase in sales volumes compared to last January.
Ms O'Sullivan said there has been a noticeable increase in first home buyers in the Hawke's Bay region compared to the previous month, but first-buyer activity was still at lower levels than January last year.
"Listings remain in short supply, although open home attendances have been increasing as more buyers come to the market," she said.
Mr Whitaker said with interest rates remaining low, but the Reserve Bank signalling they would rise soon, there were signs more activity was around the corner.
"When people can buy a house and the mortgage is cheaper than renting that's when things start to happen and I think we're just about at that stage," he said.
The average time taken to sell a Hawke's Bay property increased slightly over the year, from 59 days in January 2013 to 61 days last month.
Over the past 10 years the median number of days to sell a property in the region in January has been 56 days.
Across the entire country 4719 homes were sold in January, down 4.3 per cent on the same month last year.
The national median price for a property was $402,000, up $32,000 from $370,000 in January last year.